PARASHAH: Acharei Mot (After the death)
ADDRESS: Vayikra (Leviticus) 16:1-18:30

AUTHOR: Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy


(Note: all quotations are taken from the Complete Jewish Bible, translation by David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., unless otherwise noted)

Let’s begin with the opening blessing for the Torah:

"Baruch atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-‘Olam,

asher bachar banu m’kol ha-amim,

v’natan lanu eht Torah-to.

Baruch atah YHVH, noteyn ha-Torah.


(Blessed are you, O’ LORD, our God, King of the Universe,

you have selected us from among all the peoples,

and have given us your Torah.

Blessed are you, LORD, giver of the Torah.



Welcome to Parashat Acharei Mot. This particular commentary will represent the longest, most comprehensive article on the weekly portions that I have written to date. Be prepared for a long read!

This particular parashah contains within it some of the single most impacting verses in the Torah. In theological studies, we call these passages "chair passages" as they have the power to change an entire theological argument, like a judge passing a sentence. In other words, sometimes a single passage can decide which direction in the proverbial fork in the road we should embark down!

The passage's most notable feature is its instructions concerning Isra'el's most solemn day of gathering: Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement. Accordingly, I will draw heavily on my previous article to that Holy Convocation. I have also decided this time to make my largely Christian audience privy to some lengthy quotes from the Talmud concerning atonement. The Talmud is a voluminous commentary on the Torah and other Jewish matters, compiled during the centuries following the 70 C.E. destruction of the temple. Later, I will address some of the other issues mentioned in this important Torah portion. Let's get started shall we.

The word kippur means atonement or expiation. Related to this word is the Hebrew word kapporet, which is what we call the cover to the Ark of the Covenant. It is a fitting connection, since the lid of the Ark (Mercy Seat) is where HaShem spoke to Moshe face to face. This was also where the blood of the atoning animal was offered once a year during Yom Kippur (Leviticus 16:14-16). It is in this way, that the blood of the sacrifice "covered" the sin of the person bringing it. This type of atonement only covers the sin; it doesn’t allow it to be completely erased. In a very true way, this type of atonement was temporary. You might ask, "If HaShem knew the temporal aspect of this sacrificial system, why did he institute it in the first place? Why not just send the Messiah from the beginning, and skip all of those elaborate "middle steps"? This is a good and valid question, not entirely unlike those that I hear from most non-Jewish believers and a few Jewish folks as well.

In order to gain a fuller appreciation for the Yom Kippur rituals, we should do a short study on the other types of sacrifices that took place in and around the Mishkan of that time. I should have done this in Parashat Vayikra, so allow me to make up for it now. I shall go backward in the book of Leviticus and briefly study these korbanot (offerings).

These five are the types of offerings introduced in the opening pages of Leviticus:

'Olah (Burnt Offering) – Lev. 1:1-17

Minchah (Grain Offering) – Lev. 2:1-16

Sh’lamim (Peace Offering) – Lev. 3:1-17

Chata’at (Sin Offering) – Lev. 4:1-35; 5:1-13

‘Asham (Guilt Offering) – Lev. 5:14-26

The first three could easily be considered "freewill offerings", brought before HaShem by anyone at various times in the life of anyone in the community. The last two were required to make restitution for various sins. Such korbanot (chata’at and ’asham) are referred to as "expiatory". The expiatory korbanot shall occupy the bulk of the latter part of this commentary.


‘Olah (Burnt Offering)

As we open the pages of Sefer Vayikra (Book of Leviticus) we firstly encounter the ‘Olah. The daily offering was an 'Olah, completely consumed by fire on the altar during the night. What was done with the ashes? A priest placed one shovelful of ashes next to the altar. To dispose of the rest, he changed into less important clothes, and brought the ashes to a ritually clean place outside the camp.

The Torah concludes by instructing that the fire on the altar burn continuously. "The priest will kindle wood on it each morning."  (Lev 6:2-5)

Upon analysis, we see that the daily ‘Olah service involved three different locations, in descending holiness:

*On top of the altar.

*Next to the altar.

*A ritually clean place outside the camp.

For Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), first Chief Rabbi of the Land of Isra'el, the completely burnt offering was a metaphor for the very highest level of contact between man and God. The fire on the altar reflects sublime experiences of inspiration and prophecy. At this level, the material world is of no consequence. The fire totally consumes the flesh of the offering, freeing man from the shackles of his physical reality.

The kindling of the holy flames on man's soul is outside the framework of normal life. Such Divine interaction is beyond the ordinary structures of human existence, both individual and collective. The ‘Olah offering burns on the altar itself.


Minchah (Grain Offering)

The writers over at YashaNet have done a wonderful job of explaining the next two types of offerings and their functions. I have enhanced their comments with my own excerpts from various rabbinical insights.

The Minchah offering was an offering of flour, about 5 lbs. The flour was placed in a special pan into which some oil had been poured. More oil was poured over the flour and mixed with a sweet spice. The pan was then handed to the cohen who brought the pan to the alter where it was measured out, three hands full, which was burnt on the alter. The flour was not allowed to rise, could not be sweetened and must be salted. The person offering this sacrifice eats none of his offering. The priests do eat the leftovers. It was taught that when the priests eat of this sacrifice, God forgave the sins of Israel.

Rashi makes the comment concerning the Minchah: "Minchah is the only voluntary sacrifice that begins ‘WHEN A TRANQUIL SOUL’.

Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstein, in Tosefet Bracha, relates the word Minchah to the "Korban Minchah - a flour offering." The Torah (Vayikra 2:1) introduces this offering in a unique way. It says, "Venefesh Ki Takriv Minchah" which literally means, "When a soul sacrifices a Minchah offering." All other sacrifices are introduced with the words "When a man sacrifices" or "when a person sacrifices," but regarding the Minchah offering, it says, "When a soul sacrifices." The rabbis (Menachot 104b) explain that a Minchah offering was sacrificed by someone who was poor, and the Torah uses the phrase "when a soul sacrifices" to mean that when a poor person offers a Minchah, HaShem considers it as if they had sacrificed their soul. That, says the Tosefet Bracha, is the secret of the word Minchah.


Sh’lamim (Peace Offering)

The Shelamim, or peace offering was not brought to atone for sin, but instead to express happiness and gratitude to God. An ox or cow, ram or female sheep were used as an offering. They were slaughtered in the same fashion as the Olah, except the person would give thanks to God and sing praises when he laid his hands on the animal’s head. The blood that was collected was sprinkled on the four corners of the altar. Part of the animal was burned on the altar while the owner and the cohanim ate the rest. This sacrifice was also offered whenever God rescued you from a dangerous situation (Shalmay Toda) specifically:

* Recovering from a serious illness

* Crossing the desert safely

* Returning safely from an ocean voyage

* Freed from prison

Our sages in Sifra156 (Lev. 3:1) express different views. We shall cite some of them:

Rabbi Yehuda said: Whoever brings Shelamim brings shalom/peace into the world. Another explanation: It harbors "peace" for all parties; the blood and inward parts—for the altar, the breast and shoulder—for the priests, the skin and meat—for the owners. R. Naphtali Herz Weisel elaborates on this theme in his Biur (The Biur is a digest of literal and/or p’shat options as to what various words and passages mean, not drash-like at all):

It is, as our Rabbis maintained, an expression of peace…Plural in form, it should read shelomim, as in Psalm 69; 23: "Let their table before them become a snare, and when they are in peace (shelomim) let it become a trap…" The current form (Sh’lamim) serves to designate the sacrifice. Language searches for different forms in which to express different nuances. Semantically, however, it corresponds to shalom…and Sh’lamim. In the singular, shalom expresses prosperity and well-being (cf. Gen. 37:14 and 43:27). Troubles afflicts the soul and once the soul is delivered from trouble and suffering, it is at peace. The peace offering reflects an abundance of joy, of gratitude to God for one’s well being, or for deliverance from trouble. By thanking God for his goodness, man brings on himself Divine grace that ensures his welfare. Not so the godless who say "The might of my own has gotten me this wealth" (Deut. 8:17), or: "It was a chance that happened to us" (I Sam. 6:9). They will be tossed about like the sea… there is no peace for the wicked, says the LORD" (Is. 57:20-21).


Chata’at (Sin Offering)

The sin offering proper is a sacrifice consisting of either a beast or a fowl and offered on the altar to atone for a sin committed unwittingly. The rules concerning the sin offering are as follows: If the anointed priest or the whole congregation commits a sin through ignorance, the sin offering is a young bullock without blemish. Should the ruler so sin, his offering is a male kid without blemish. But when a private individual sins, his offering must be either a female kid or a female lamb without blemish, or, if he is too poor to provide one of these, a turtledove.


Sin offerings were brought on other occasions also. On the Day of Atonement the high priest inaugurated the festival with two sin offerings—a bullock as his own offering, and a male kid for the congregation. The flesh of these was not eaten, but after the fat had been removed the carcasses were burned outside the camp (Lev. 26:3, 5, 10-11, 25, 27). A woman, after the days of her purification had been fulfilled, was required to bring a dove for a sin offering, in addition to a burnt offering. A leper, on the day of his cleansing, was required to bring, besides other offerings, a female lamb or, if he were too poor, a dove for a sin offering (Lev. 12:6; 14:10, 19, 22).


'Asham (Guilt Offering) makes this note concerning the 'Asham:

The Asham offering has many applications. Like the Chatas, it is a sin offering, however, the Asham atones for intentional sinning. Swearing falsely is one such example. "G-d is the unseen Third Party Who is present wherever and whenever one man has dealings with another, even if no other witnesses are on hand. G-d Himself is the Guarantor for the honest dealings between men. If therefore this guarantor is invoked as a witness when any factor in these dealings has been disavowed, it is not merely an act of ordinary faithlessness. For in this case the offender has pledged his priestly character, his relationship to G-d, as surety for his honesty".


A standard Judaic definition of the 'Asham might read something like this: A guilt offering is an offering to atone for sins of stealing things from the altar, for when you are not sure whether you have committed a sin or what sin you have committed, or for breach of trust.  The Hebrew word for a guilt offering is ‘asham.  When there was doubt as to whether a person committed a sin, the person would bring an ‘asham, rather than a chata’at, because bringing a chata’at would constitute admission of the sin, and the person would have to be punished for it.  If a person brought an ‘asham and later discovered that he had in fact committed the sin, he would have to bring a chata’at at that time.  An ‘asham was eaten by the cohanim.


Apologetics – Part One

Let us turn now to a discussion of the expiatory offerings and their bearing on Jews and Christians today. To be sure, this will be the central topic of my commentary. For the sake of this next apologetic section I would like to create two imaginary groups: the Missionary and the Anti-missionary. In reality both of these groups really exist but my commentary will of necessity be structuring their respective arguments for my readers. I would like to start by citing some somewhat "standard answers" to a few "Christian" objections, here presented as the "missionaries", concerning the sacrifices and atonement. A sample missionary question will appear first with a "standard Jewish" answer, here read as the "anti-missionaries", following. Later in the commentary I will take my own shot at rebutting the "standard" anti-missionary answers.

First we shall list two questions from the missionaries and allow the anti-missionaries to answer:

Q: How do Jews obtain forgiveness without sacrifices?

A: Forgiveness is obtained through repentance, prayer and good deeds.

In Jewish practice, prayer has taken the place of sacrifices. In accordance with the words of Hosea, we render instead of bullocks the offering of our lips (Hosea 14:3) (please note: the KJV translates this somewhat differently). While dedicating the Temple, King Solomon also indicated that prayer can be used to obtain forgiveness (I Kings 8:46-50). Our prayer services are in many ways designed to parallel the sacrificial practices. For example, we have an extra service on Shabbat, to parallel the extra Shabbat offering. For more information about this, see Jewish Liturgy.

It is important to note that in Judaism, sacrifice was never the exclusive means of obtaining forgiveness, was not in and of itself sufficient to obtain forgiveness, and in certain circumstances was not even effective to obtain forgiveness. This will be discussed further below.


Q: But isn't a blood sacrifice required in order to obtain forgiveness?

A: No. Although animal sacrifice is one means of obtaining forgiveness, there are non-animal offerings as well, and there are other means for obtaining forgiveness that do not involve sacrifices at all.

The passage that people ordinarily cite for the notion that blood is required is Leviticus 17:11: "For the soul of the flesh is in the blood and I have assigned it for you upon the altar to provide atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that atones for the soul." But the passage that this verse comes from is not about atonement; it is about dietary laws, and the passage says only that blood is used to obtain atonement; not that blood is the only means for obtaining atonement. Leviticus 17:10-12 could be paraphrased as "Don't eat blood, because blood is used in atonement rituals; therefore, don't eat blood."


Apologetics – Part Two

Now I would like to supply some Messianic answers to these issues posed by my imaginary missionary and his imaginary anti-missionary opponent. This time the question could feasibly be posed by either a missionary or an anti-missionary, but the answers are definitely my [missionary] answer.

Q: Is there atonement without the sacrifices? And if there is atonement, is such atonement offered for both intentional and unintentional sins?

A: First of all, what are intentional and unintentional sins? Renni S. Altman of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) says this about such sins:

In Leviticus 4 we read about the chatat, the sin offering, that the Israelites were required to bring when they had transgressed a known commandment as well as when they had committed an unintentional sin, either because of their ignorance of the commandments or through carelessness or oversight. In the latter instance, everyone in the Israelite community was obligated to bring a sin offering, even the High Priest.

In contrast to many of us today, our ancestors understood that they were responsible for all their actions, whether intentional or not. In his commentary on Leviticus, Baruch Levine explains that according to ancient cultic belief systems, guilt exists regardless of the perpetrator's awareness of having committed a sin. Guilt, as it were, has a life of its own, and only an act of expiation can wipe it away. Thus we learn in Sefer Hachinuch, a thirteenth-century work that discusses the commandments and their purpose, "When a man [sic] sins, he cannot cleanse his heart merely by uttering, between himself and the wall, 'I have sinned and will never repeat it.' Only by doing an overt act to atone for his sin, by taking rams from his enclosures and troubling himself to bring them to the Temple, give them to the priest, and perform the entire rite as prescribed for sin offerings, only then will he impress upon his soul the extent of the evil of his sin and take measures to avoid it in the future."

I think it is safe to say that both missionaries and anti-missionaries would agree that atonement is made available for sin in general, but would simply (and sharply) disagree on the methods of procuring such atonement. So what exactly is the big issue at stake here? Perhaps at least two issues: Exactly which sins are atoned for? And by what method are they atoned?

Since our parashah centers on the Yom Kippur ritual, it is there that I shall turn first for support of my detailed answer on these issues. I firmly believe that the Torah clearly teaches that the Yom Kippur ritual was intended for both intentional and unintentional sins. Before I show my answer, let me show you another anti-missionary answer. Some anti-missionaries would readily disagree with my above statement about Yom Kippur, teaching that there is no atonement for intentional sins. A well-known anti-missionary organization by the name of Jews for Judaism agrees with the notion of atonement for intentional and unintentional sins, but the means of such atonement is radically different than the accepted missionary approach.

Observe their answer:

Biblically, the optimum means for attaining atonement consists of both animal sacrifices and sincere confessionary repentant prayer used in conjunction with each other. Traditional Judaism looks forward to the restoration of the dual system working simultaneously--animal sacrifice and contrite prayer.

The rabbis under the leadership of Yohanan ben Zakkai did not make an unscriptural substitution when they emphasized sincere confessionary repentant prayer as a means of obtaining atonement. The Bible already mandated sincere confessionary repentant prayer, as a proper vehicle for attaining forgiveness. In the biblical period atonement prayer was used with full divine sanction, with or without animal offerings (even for non-Jews--Jonah 3:5-10).

Sincere confessionary repentant prayer is the primary biblical prescription for obtaining atonement when animal sacrifices cannot be offered concurrently. Animal sacrifices are only prescribed for unwitting or unintentional sin (shogeg)--Leviticus 4:2, 13, 22, 27; 5:5, 15 (cf. Numbers 15:30). The one exception is if an individual swore falsely to acquit himself of the accusation of having committed theft (Leviticus 5:24-26). Intentional sin can only be atoned for through repentance, unaccompanied by a blood sacrifice- Psalms 32:5, 51:16-19.

Giving charity is a material expression of this inner repentance that is articulated in the rabbinic formula: "Prayer, repentance, and charity avert the evil decree" (T.J. Ta'anit 2:1, 65b). This is based on the verse: "If My people, upon whom My name is called, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their evil ways; then will I hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin, and I will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Firstly it must be recognized that HaShem’s forgiveness, as enacted in the korbanot, are reserved for those whose hearts are pure, that is, for those with the intention of turning from their sin and making restitution for sinning against God. The anti-missionaries correctly quoted 2 Chronicles in an effort to demonstrate this, but again I will disagree that the focus of such "t’shuvah" (repentance) is the prayers, charity, and repentance alone (more on these three later in this commentary). I maintain that our focus can only be upon the Spotless Lamb offered for atonement, Yeshua our Yom Kippur! The Renewed Covenant will bear this out later as well.

The ancient Rabbis agreed that sacrifice without true repentance invalidates the sacrifice itself! The Talmud in Tractate Yoma clearly teaches this:

MISHNA: Sin-offerings and trespass-offerings atone. Death and the Day of Atonement, if one is penitent, atone. Penitence atones for slight breaches of positive or negative commandments; for grave sins, it effects a suspension, till the Day of Atonement completes the atonement. To him who says: "I will sin, repent, sin again, and repent again," is not given the opportunity to repent. For him who thinks, "I will sin; the Day of Atonement will atone for my sins," the Day of Atonement does not atone. A sin towards God, the Day of Atonement atones for; but a sin towards his fellowman is not atoned for by the Day of Atonement so long as the wronged fellowman is not righted. R. Eliezer b. Azariah lectured: It is written [Lev. xvi. 30]: "From all your sins before the Lord shall ye be clean." (This is our tradition.) The sin towards God, the Day of Atonement atones for; but sins toward man, the Day of Atonement cannot atone for till the neighbor has been appeased.

Said R. Aqiba: Happy are ye, O Israel. Before whom do ye cleanse yourselves, and who cleanses you? Your Father who is in Heaven. For it is written [Ezek. xxxvi. 25]: "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean "; and it is also written: "The Migveh (hope, or legal bath) of Israel is the Lord." As a legal diving-bath purifies the unclean, so does the Holy One, blessed be He, cleanse Israel.

GEMARA: "Death and the Day of Atonement," etc. Only when one is penitent, but otherwise they do not atone? Shall we assume that the Mishna is not in accordance with Rabbi, in the following Boraitha: "Rabbi says: All sins mentioned in the Bible, whether one is penitent or not, are atoned by the Day of Atonement, except throwing off the yoke (of God), expounding the Torah falsely, and abolition of circumcision (and mocking a fellowman). These sins are atoned for by the Day of Atonement, if one is penitent, but not otherwise." It may be said even that the Mishna is in accordance with Rabbi: Penitence is supplemented by the Day of Atonement or Death, but the Day of Atonement does atone alone.

"Penitence atones for slight breaches, if positive or negative," etc. Why has it to be told, positive? If negative, so much the more positive? Said R. Jehudah: The Mishna meant to say, a positive commandment, or a negative commandment inferred from a positive. But a real negative commandment is not atoned? There is a contradiction from the following Boraitha: What are called slight sins? A breach of a positive and negative commandment, except the negative commandment [Ex. xx. 7]: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain"; and all things equal to this: since this, which is a real negative commandment, is excepted, the other negative commandments are atoned for? Come and hear another contradiction: It is written [Ex. xxxiv. 7]: "And he will clear of sins." We might think, from this sin, the breach of the negative commandment, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord," etc., he will also clear. Therefore it is further written, "by no means." Shall we assume, that from the breaches of all negative commandments he will not clear? Therefore it is written [Ex. xx. 7]: "For the Lord will not hold him guiltless (the Hebrew term is the same) that taketh His name in vain." Infer from this, that breaches of other negative commandments he does atone for? (How, then, does Jehudah say that the breaches of real negative commandments are not atoned for?) There is a difference of opinion among the Tanaim, as we have learned in the following Boraitha: "What does penitence atone for? For breaches of positive, and negative inferred from positive, commandments. And for which does penitence only gain a suspension, and the Day of Atonement atones? The sins for which the penalties are Karoth, death by Beth Din, and real negative commandments."

The Master has said: Because it is written [Ex. xxxiv. 7]: "He will clear of sins," how is it to be understood? That is as we have learned in the following Boraitha: R. Elazar said: We cannot say it means, He clears of sins, because it is written further, "by no means" does He clear. We cannot say, He does not, because it is written "clear of sins."  We must therefore explain the verse: He clears of sins those who do penance; and does not, those who are not penitent.

This concept of intentional and unintentional sin and of penitence and rebellion is touched upon in the Torah at Sefer B’midbar (the Book of Numbers):


Version: KJV

Num 15:26 - Num 15:36

26. And it shall be forgiven all the congregation of the children of Israel, and the stranger that sojourneth among them; seeing all the people [were] in ignorance. 27. And if any soul sin through ignorance, then he shall bring a she goat of the first year for a sin offering. 28. And the priest shall make an atonement for the soul that sinneth ignorantly, when he sinneth by ignorance before the Lord, to make an atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him. 29. Ye shall have one law for him that sinneth through ignorance, [both for] him that is born among the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them. 30. But the soul that doeth [ought] presumptuously, [whether he be] born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 31. Because he hath despised the word of the Lord, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity [shall be] upon him.

The very same concept is taught in the B’rit Chadashah (the Renewed Covenant, i.e., the New Testament) in the book of Hebrews!:


Version: RSV

Heb 10:26-31

26. For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27. but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. 28. A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? 30. For we know him who said, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge his people." 31. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Thus we see that sins, both intentional and unintentional, must be accompanied by a penitent heart. Now does Leviticus teach that the Yom Kippur atones for all of these sins? Let us quote the text of Leviticus 16:17-24 from the 1917 JPS version:


And he shall make atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleannesses of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, even all their sins; and so shall he do for the tent of meeting, that dwelleth with them in the midst of their uncleannesses.


And there shall be no man in the tent of meeting when he goeth in to make atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and have made atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the assembly of Israel.


And he shall go out unto the altar that is before HaShem, and make atonement for it; and shall take of the blood of the bullock, and of the blood of the goat, and put it upon the horns of the altar round about.


And he shall sprinkle of the blood upon it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleannesses of the children of Israel.



And when he hath made an end of atoning for the holy place, and the tent of meeting, and the altar, he shall present the live goat.


And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, even all their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of an appointed man into the wilderness.


And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land which is cut off; and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.


And Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting, and shall put off the linen garments, which he put on when he went into the holy place, and shall leave them there.


And he shall bathe his flesh in water in a holy place and put on his other vestments, and come forth, and offer his burnt-offering and the burnt-offering of the people, and make atonement for himself and for the people.

Look again at verse 16!

"And he shall make atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleannesses of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, even all their sins; and so shall he do for the tent of meeting, that dwelleth with them in the midst of their uncleannesses" (emphasis mine).

And again at verse 21!

"And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, even all their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of an appointed man into the wilderness" (emphasis mine).

It is not difficult to understand the import of the passages quoted. "All" means "all"! The Yom Kippur sacrifice, if presented by the priest with a right heart on behalf of the people with right hearts atoned for all of their sins.

Again I cite the RaMBaM (Rabbi Moshe ben-Maimon, aka, Maimonides) for ancient support. In his Mishneh Torah chapter one deals with the Laws of Repentance:

The goat sent to Azazel on the Day of Atonement is an atonement for all of Israel. The High Priest confesses verbally over it for all Jews, as it is written, "..and confesses over it all the iniquities of the Children of Israel". This goat atones for all transgressions of whatever severity of any of the Torah's commandments, whether they were committed deliberately or accidentally, whether the transgressor had confessed or not, provided that the guilty parties had repented, for without repentance the goat sent to Azazel repents only for the less-severe transgressions. Severe transgressions are those which a Court of Law can punish by death, or which carry a penalty of excision, and also false oaths and falsehood, even though they do not bear a penalty of excision. Transgressions of negative commandments or other transgressions the transgression of which does not carry a penalty of excision are considered less severe.

Of course any good Jew can go on to read that in section three immediately following section two he clarifies his position on repentance by teaching:

In this day and age we have only repentance, for we don't have the Temple and Altar. This repentance [that we have to do nowadays] can atone for all sins.

This is where the RaMBaM and I part ways.

In chapter 16 of our portion, we find the divine instructions for the sacred day of assembly known as Yom Kippur. HaShem has very explicit and important details that he expects Aharon the cohen gadol (high priest) to carry out. To be sure, as we shall find out, they had a very significant and far-reaching impact not just on the physical offspring of Avraham, but as the fullness of God's timetable would demonstrate, on the rest of humanity as well.


Yeshua’s Bloody Atonement Sacrifice

Obvious by now with the arrival of Yom Kippur, comes this central aspect of our relationship with our Holy God: atonement. Why is atonement so important to HaShem? Apparently, ever since the incident in the Garden of Eden, mankind has carried within himself the sinful propensity of that first act of disobedience, and consequently, the sinful results as well. Our sin nature is in direct conflict with the holy nature of HaShem. As a result, we cannot fathom approaching him without first making some sort of restitution, which would satisfy HaShem’s righteous requirement. His nature demands that there be atonement for sin, for indeed, sin cannot exist in his sight.

In an attempt to continue explain the matter, we need to understand the plans and purposes of HaShem as expressed in the whole of the Torah. From our vantagepoint and using twentieth century hindsight, it makes perfect sense to send the Messiah to atone for our sinful nature. After all, if God left things in the hands of mankind, each individual man would have to atone for his own personal sins and consequently every man would eventually have to die for such a payment. But what does the Torah say?

"Here is how it works: it was through one individual that sin entered into the world, and through sin, death; and in this way death passed through to the whole human race, inasmuch as everyone sinned." (Romans 5:12)

With the entrance of sin came the punishment for sin–death. So we see that HaShem is perfectly righteous when he says that the wages for our sin is death; every man does deserve to die. But here is where the mercy of HaShem comes in! He has lovingly provided a means by which mankind can redeem himself. In the period of the TaNaKH, the sacrificial system was that means! Even though it was a temporary solution, it was authentically God’s solution. No Jew living in that time period was able to circumvent this system, and remain officially within the community. To answer the question posed above, If we take HaShem seriously, them we will accept his provision–no matter what means, or how temporal that provision is! This is our first lesson in "Torah logic".

This brings us to the current situation facing every man and woman and child, Jew or non-Jew, living today: "Since the sacrificial system used in the TaNaKH was temporary, what is his means of atonement today?"

As we have already observed from the anti-missionary’s position above, the modern rabbis would have us to believe that the three ways by which we appease HaShem today are "T’shuvah" (repentance), "T’fillah" (prayer), and "Tzedekah" (righteous acts). To be sure, all of these principles are found in the teachings of the Torah! And each and every one of them has valid merit. For our God is highly interested in our repentance from sin, and he is very supportive of a prayer time, and he is enthusiastic of our righteous acts done in his name! But what does our Torah portion say?

"For the life of the creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for yourselves; for it is the blood that makes atonement because of the life." (Leviticus 17:11)

Moving into chapter 17, we encounter one of our chair passages. This single verse of the Torah has caused no small disagreement between Christian missionaries and anti-missionaries. The missionaries use this verse as a launching point by which to propagate the necessity of the atonement of Yeshua the Messiah for the forgiveness of sin. The rabbis teach that according to further insight (usually provided for them by the Talmud, this verse is not exclusively addressing the issue of sin atonement. Since we are studying the arguments and responses of both camps, we should not be ashamed to provide an authoritative answer.

First of all, the rabbis have a somewhat valid point to make; the Torah does address the issue of atonement in other sections. Likewise, HaShem did use the blood of animals in other types of sacrificial requirements, where sin is not the primary issue. But what the rabbis seem to misunderstand, is that the above quoted verse was not intended to confuse the average reader! Citing the rules of standard grammatical-historical exegesis: When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise. In other words, did the average unlearned reader, living in the time period of the TaNaKH, understand what HaShem was asking of him? Of course he did. If he did not, I imagine we would have read about the difference in interpretation somewhere else in the Torah. But our verse here in Leviticus contains little or no ambiguity. The immediate recipients of the context of chapter 17 are as given: to Moshe (vs. 1), to Aharon and his sons (vs. 1), to 'Am Isra'el (vs. 1), and finally someone from the community of Isra'el or one of the foreigners living with you (vs. 8, 10). The chapter even leaves off addressing "anyone" in verse 15.

Were all of these individuals learned people? Did they study in the most brilliant theological schools of their day? Was HaShem secretly cloaking this important information in mystery only to be understood by the future rabbis and Torah teachers of the people of Isra'el? I am not reluctant to place the blame on over-examination. Because of this, we sometimes miss the simple explanation that the Torah is trying to teach us. To use modern language "We miss the forest for the trees!" Another rather obvious cause for the disagreement here is the fact that most non-Messianic rabbis don’t consider the New Covenant Scriptures authoritative, and therefore, they usually ignore it’s teaching. Woe unto those unfaithful teachers during the coming day of reckoning (Yom haDin)!

But the Torah, as revealed by the Messiah and his first century followers, is authoritative concerning this issue, so it is there that we will settle the issue:

"But God demonstrated his own love for us in that the Messiah died on our behalf while we were still sinners. Therefore, since we have now come to be considered righteous by means of his bloody sacrificial death, how much more will we be delivered through him from the anger of God’s judgment!" (Romans 5:8, 9)

Yeshua has now become the means by which all men must satisfy the righteous atoning requirement of the Holy One! This type of atonement is not just a covering! Our sins are not merely covered for the year, only to be remembered the next year at Yom Kippur. This type of atonement is a permanent one! What does the Torah say?

"No longer will any of them teach his fellow community member or his brother, ‘Know ADONAI’; for all will know me, from the least of them to the greatest; because I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more." (Jeremiah 31:34)

Even righteous King David recognized the mercy of a God who covers the transgressors’ sin, in chapter thirty-two of the book of Psalms. And this is also where we see a good example of the validity and necessity of the system used during those days. But the covenant spoken about by the prophet Jeremiah, is surely a superior system. When HaShem says that he will remember our sins no more, that’s something to rejoice about! Why would anyone want to attempt to revert back to the former system, if it were possible? Unfortunately, today, many of my brothers according to the flesh are doing something similar to this. When a person rejects Yeshua HaMashiach as the final atonement for their sin, they are really rejecting the One who sent the Messiah in the first place! In other words, to reject Yeshua is to reject HaShem! This is where the corporate blindness of my people lies.

The second important aspect of the sending of Yeshua at the appointed time has to do with order. HaShem has a perfect plan for everything. According to the purpose of God, sin had to run it’s course, until the time for sending the Messiah into the world came. Yeshua therefore demonstrated his obedience to the Father by surrendering his life as a sacrifice only when the time set by his Father was perfect. Not sooner. Not later. We must accept this Biblical truth and live by it. In a way, you could say that if Messiah Yeshua had provided himself for atonement at a much earlier time, then, because of community dynamics, the majority of Am Yisra’el would have accepted him, yet the majority of the surrounding Gentile Nations would have missed out. Of course this is speculative, yet it does contain an element of truth. Read Romans chapter eleven, specifically verse twenty-five sometime, and you’ll notice that the Torah is hinting at this very aspect!

Moving on into chapter 18, we find our second chair passage.

"You are to observe my laws and rulings; if a person does them, he will have life through them; I am ADONAI." (Leviticus 18:5)

A few years ago I had the unique opportunity of engaging in a lengthy debate with a non-Messianic rabbi over the important implications behind this single verse. Since the debate was via the medium of e-mail, I have decided to share a selected portion with you here in this commentary. A word of caution: my apologetics (Scriptural defensive reasoning) were aimed at the gross error that exists within the scholarship of the Jewish learned. My comments were intended to expose that error in an effort to showcase the Truth of the Torah to a man whose eyes were blinded by defensive (not passive) unbelief, as well as a man bent on ill-feelings towards the Christian community of which he believes is in serious disobedience to the Torah of the very God that they claim to serve. My comments should not be understood as being applied to the Jewish people as a whole, nor am I singling out any particular Christian group. Truth cuts to the heart of the issue for those who walk in disobedience. To use modern vernacular "If the shoe fits….then wear it!"

I have not posted any of his comments, as I do not permission to do so. Mixing only my own comments with those of noted author and translator David H. Stern, as found in his Jewish New Testament Commentary, I wrote:

" Moshe spoke of the righteousness that is grounded in trust, in Vayikra 18:5, "That the person who does these things will attain life through them." Rashi (quoting the Sifra) comments: "It refers to the world to come; for if you say it refers to this world, doesn't everyone die sooner or later?" I understand the Torah then to be talking about eternal life.

"That many Christians don't believe that the Torah teaches eternal life through the Teachings of the Mitzvot is irrelevant! If they have made a serious error in their theology, they must answer to HaShem for misunderstanding His Torah. Why do we become so "caught up in the middle" over false teaching? Is it because of the fence that we have built around Torah, that we defend it so fervently? In any case, they are wrong about Torah.... it is to be kept, not disregarded. It is the goal of the Torah to lead its followers to the righteousness grounded in trust. But have you ever stopped to think that they (the minim) may have understood a central part that our people, the Jewish community, miss?

"The lesson in logic goes like this: the person who practices "the righteousness grounded in the Torah will necessarily have the trust in Yeshua the Messiah that the B'rit Chadashah proclaims. Why? Because legalism is the exact opposite of trust! The heresy of legalism, when applied to the Torah, says that anyone who does these things, that is, anyone who mechanically follows the rules for Shabbat, kashrut, etc., will attain life through them, will be saved, will enter the Kingdom of HaShem, will obtain eternal life. No need to trust HaShem, just obey the rules! The problem with this simplistic ladder to Heaven is that legalism conveniently ignores the "rule" that trust must underlie all rule-following which HaShem finds acceptable. But trust necessarily converts mere rule-following into something altogether different, in fact, into its opposite, genuine faithfulness to HaShem. Therefore, "legalistic obedience to Torah commands" (that is, "works of the Law") is actually disobedience to the Torah!

"As a Jew, who follows the Torah as given by Him, through Moshe Rabbenu, I challenge you once again: legalism - that is, legalistic obedience to Torah commands - is disobedience to the Torah! One could be obeying every single mitzvah (except, by assumption, the mitzvah of trust), but if these things are being done without heartfelt trust in the God who is there, the only God there is, the God who sent his Son Yeshua to be the atonement for sin, then all this outward "obedience" is hateful to HaShem (Yesha'yahu 1:14), and the person doing it, the legalist, "lives under a curse," because he is not "doing everything written in the Scroll of the Torah" (D'varim 27:26).

"Now here's the sad truth! The evidence that non-Messianic Jews "have not submitted themselves to HaShem's way of making people righteous", which itself shows that their "zeal for HaShem" is "not based on correct understanding", is that they have not grasped the central point of the Torah and acted on it. Had they seen that trust in HaShem - as opposed to self-effort, legalism, and mechanical obedience to the rules - is the route to the righteousness which the Torah itself not only requires but offers, then they would see that, "the goal at which the Torah aims is [acknowledging and trusting in] the Messiah, who offers [on the ground of this trusting the very] righteousness (they are seeking). They would see that the righteousness, which the Torah offers, is offered through him and only through him. They would also see that he offers it to everyone who trusts - to them and to the Goyim as well!"

The thrust of this week's commentary has been presented in an effort to educate the two camps, both Jews and Gentile Christians. Many Messianic as well as non-Messianic Jews still struggle with the intended meaning of "what it means to be a new creation in Messiah, walking out his Torah in our lives"; moreover, many non-Jewish Christians struggle with this issue as well. By default, the world does not struggle with these issues since it has not accepted HaShem on his grounds in the first place.

While my heart reaches out to non-Jewish believers with these important instructions concerning the Torah of HaShem, it is my desire to make a heartfelt plea to the Jewish Community to consider accepting HaShem on his terms alone! This is our second lesson in "Torah-logic": if HaShem renews the terms of his original covenant, we as partners must agree with his improved establishment, especially since it was faithlessness on our part that necessitated the renewal! Apart from being superior to the sacrificial system because of it’s lasting impact, Yeshua’s atonement also brought about the power to maintain a change of heart. To be sure, the famous passage quoted from Jeremiah contains in it, a promise from HaShem to put the Torah in the inward parts of the people–i.e. on the heart. This means a change in the spiritual makeup of the individual. A change that transforms the sinner into the status of righteous heir! Now because of Yeshua’s death, HaShem no longer considers death as our wage (Romans 8:1)! Even if not corporately, each individual Jewish person can now proclaim: Our Yom Kippur has come! Our final Day of Atonement has already arrived! Our effectual sacrifice has been offered once and for all!

The closing blessing is as follows:

"Baruch atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-‘Olam,

asher natan lanu Toraht-emet,

v’chay-yeh o’lam nata-b’tochenu.

Baruch atah YHVH, noteyn ha-Torah.


(Blessed are you O’ LORD, our God, King of the Universe,

you have given us your Torah of truth,

and have planted everlasting life within our midst.

Blessed are you, LORD, giver of the Torah.


"Shabbat Shalom!"

Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy